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What’s the Point?

Christmas tree 2014With Christmas quickly approaching we had to find a tree. There was urgency because our daughter and son-in-law were coming over tomorrow to help decorate. You can’t decorate something that isn’t there. Off we headed into the woods in search of “the tree” it had to be the perfect tree. Each years tree was in competition with former years to be the perfect tree.

Scott spotted a beautiful tree as soon as we entered the cutting area. It was uniformly shaped and frosted with new fallen snow though the snow didn’t cause any branches to droop. It was just right and we were short on time. We had many things to accomplish.

Scott downed the tree with just enough struggle to make it worthwhile. He had the tree loaded in record time and we headed back home pleased with ourselves.

The pleasure was short lived when we discovered that the tree we choose was not a soft “friendly Fir” but a pokey “spiny Spruce”. Trying to settle the tree into the stand required thick gloves and long sleeves so as to not draw blood.

It was painful to admit we had brought home a beautiful but dangerous tree. But even more painful was decorating it. Each reach into its private space had to be calculated. I now have personal experience regarding how they acquired the name “needles” for with each ornament placement I drew back a wounded hand sometimes even drawing blood.

This experience was a vivid example of attempting to survive the holiday season when I was deep in my grief. Each time I would attempt to enter into a tradition it pricked my heart. Tears betrayed my wound causing me to retreat back into my protective shell. Christmas hurt but it wasn’t Christmas that caused the tears, it was memories of Christmas’ past.

When I look away from the glittering lights and packages under the tree and focus on the Christmas nativity 2014nativity scene, the reason for the season, my joy returns. Christmas began in a stable in Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth was page one of the plan of redemption. Focusing on the true reason for this season I became able to celebrate.

What I celebrated was not the gift giving, carol singing or cookie baking but the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the man of sorrows acquainted with grief but first he had to be born.

Christmas '03Jesus’ life and death give me the assurance that I will be not only united with Jesus but reunited with my children in heaven. This is what I celebrate.


Cari Zorno


Christmas Countdown – The Tree

Family time decorating the tree 2003

Family time decorating the tree 2003

We are now within  weeks of Christmas. Friends have asked me what we have done to prepare our home for Christmas. I would like to share some of our new traditions in hopes they will help you during this bitter-sweet time of the year.

It may take two weeks to get our tree up and decorated because of our schedules but it now has a prominent place in our living room. We have dressed it with glass balls, heirloom ornaments and new sparkly ones. We have the handmade ornaments with pictures of the kids growing up and ones bought on family vacations to spark memories.

The new tradition we brought to our tree are ornaments which represent each of our loved ones who are spending Christmas with Jesus. Josh has a soldier, Beth a snowboarder, and Chris has two – a camping tent and snowboard boot. When we hung these we told stories and shed a few tears. They are with us in our hearts as we look at our tree.

There are a myriad of stories depicting where the tradition of the Christmas tree began.

  • It is a Conifer which is green year round, even when the other trees seem to have died. To me it represents eternal life and stringing it with lights is like bringing the stars inside.
  • The Vikings saw the evergreen tree as a symbol of strength. It survived the long, dark, cold winters. They brought this reminder into their homes. When things got really tough and they felt as though they couldn’t survive they would see the tree and remember to be strong.

What a great symbol for us who celebrate a ‘blue’ Christmas. Grief is similar to winter, it too is long, dark, and cold but God wants us to remember He is with us. Through Him we can be “strong and courageous’ (Joshua 1:9) while leaning on Christ. One reason He came was to “bind up the brokenhearted”.

My new favorite “flower” is the Poinsettia. It is one of few flowers which will only bloom in the dark. I feel my sorrow may have darkened my world but God brought forth flowers, beauty out of ashes.

May you feel God’s strength wrapped around you this Christmas season.

What will you do differently with your Christmas tree to remember your loved one this year?


One Reason We Don’t Receive

She struggled her way through the dense crowd which engulfed Jesus. She approachedTeen Acquainted with Grief - girl purposefully from behind not wanting to draw attention. Her goal was simple, reaching Jesus. Accomplishing it could be life threatening but this was a life or death action. She could not wait. Successfully reached Jesus unnoticed, she stretched her hand and touched his robe.

She had bled for over 12 years exhausting her resources without answers. This Jesus was known to heal. He was on his way to heal. It was what he did. She knew, deep in her heart, if she could just touch his robe. This was her chance. She did not need eye contact. Who was she anyway? She was nobody, shunned by everyone else, unclean. But Jesus, she knew that Jesus could heal her. A touch was all she needed.

She reached, “If I just touch his clothes,” flit through her mind boosting her courage. Fingers grazed the fabric and immediately her bleeding stopped. She knew she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:28-29) The surge of this power stopped her in her tracks as she embraced the sensation, allowing it to fill her and empty out – push out – all that was impure in the face of pure holiness.

The crowd flowed past but only for a split second before everyone stopped. She glanced up, He had turned and was looking straight at her. She diverted her eyes not wanting attention drawn to her, wanting to be invisible.

He spoke, “Who touched me?”

“Master, the crowds are hemming you in and pressing against you.” One of His disciples said.

Jesus was insistent, “Who touched me? I know power has gone out from me.”

The woman felt a finger pointed directly at her though not a hand was raised.

She fell at his feet feeling equally grateful and exposed. Without raising her head she told her story. In His deep compassion He tenderly slid his hand below her chin lifting her face, “Daughter, your faith has healed you, go in peace.”

Jesus, was surrounded by people “hemmed in” people constantly bumped into Him. Why didn’t power flow into everyone? Why her? Enough power left Him that He knew someone received healing. He stopped. I think He wanted to make full contact, not just ignore her like everyone else had. He knew who had touched Him – He wanted her to speak, to say out loud what she needed to acknowledge, her need for His healing.

No one else was healed. Many may have needed His touch but didn’t ask. Maybe out of fear or they were unsure He would, or could do it. Whatever was the cause they didn’t ask, so they didn’t receive, “You do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2. It was her faith that brought healing. She asked, by her action, with full expectation of being healed.

Ask and it will be given to you.” Matthew 7:7

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

What do you need that only Christ can supply?                           What is keeping you from asking?

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The Empty Chair at Christmas

Christmas feastBefore I even sit down at the Christmas table my senses  overwhelm me with memories. Of our 5 senses the strongest memory keeper is smell. I smell the ham with a brown sugar glaze just how my mother-in-law made it. The smells bring back the bitter-sweet memories I have of helping her in the kitchen. The tears well up but I push them back, it is too early to get teary.

Gathering around the table decorated beautifully with red and green ornaments, and evergreen boughs tied in bright red bows highlighted with three candles, one for each of my children who died over the last three years.

Bowing our heads in prayer we thank God for all the blessing and light the candles. My husband’s voice cracks, “As we light these candles let’s share things we remember about Josh, Beth, and Chris.” Each child had a favorite flavor. Josh loved cinnamon, Beth vanilla, and for Chris it was Monster drinks so we settled on citrus. I bought those scented candles to burn throughout the day.

In the pause that followed I want to share but I couldn’t say a word as my throat tightened holding back the tears. Silently I reach into a bag and pull out a small raccoon; Josh’s favorite animal, a frog for Beth, and lastly a giraffe for Chris. I gently place these on the table and in my way include them in our celebration.

I miss their smiles, hugs and laughter. Tears well up, unable to hold them back any longer but joy resides below the surface for I have the assurance from God that someday we will again sit at a feast together, the wedding feast of the lamb.

Finding my place at the table I settle in reach for my napkin to dry the tears then slide my hand into Scott’s, the circle continues until all hands are held around the table. Heads bowed as Scott said grace over our meal.  We are all here.

Suggestions for the Holiday table:

  • Leave an empty seat, our loved one is gone but not forgotten
  • Scented candles for each family member who is no longer here
  • Stuffed animals to represent loved ones

Christmas is the celebration of Heaven coming to earth and the wedding feast a celebration after we enter Heaven.

What do you now do different with a loved one gone?





One key to understanding the uniqueness of grief for teens are the many changes they are going through just being an adolescent. Their bodies are changing radically physically, emotionally and sexually. For some it is hard for their wardrobes to keep up. While their bodies ache from the physical changes and the heart aches from loss, life can be overwhelming.

                Teens need adults who are willing to come alongside them, spend time with them, listen to them, and then listen some more.

                Teens need adults who are willing to come alongside them, spend time with them, listen to them, and then listen some more.

What they are feeling is normal during grief:

  • It is normal to be forgetful, the mind so busy it can’t be slowed down.
  • It is normal to feel constantly exhausted even with hours of sleep.
  • It is normal to feel confused and lost in familiar places.

It is important that they know it is normal. For them these feelings may seem to last forever, but again, they need to be reminded – it is temporary.  Just like growing pains, the grief will subside. They will heal.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Creating a journal in which they can express their thoughts and feelings can be very helpful. Use an inexpensive composition book and encourage them to cover it with their own drawings or pictures, phrases, and words cut from magazines that remind them of their loved ones.

This journal becomes a place to write their thoughts, poems, stories, and pictures of what they were feeling at a given time during their grief journeys. The outside of the journal represents not only how unique their loved ones were but also their own uniqueness. It is good for them to go back to these journals and see their progress over time. It is healing to see in their own words how far they have come, that feelings are temporary and one thing constant is change.

Too Dark Too Long

“The tunnel feels too dark and goes on forever” If the sadness is deep for a long time, meaning several months, please encourage them to speak to a trained counselor. Depression locks teens into believing their emotional pain is a permanent state with no way out. They need help escaping this trap. Chronic depression can lead to suicidal thoughts, which need to be addressed immediately. Trained counselors can help themlight-end-tunnel-18817673[1] refocus and lift them from this darkness.

Suicide warning signs:

  • mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as going from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious.
  • lose interest in day-to-day activities,
  • neglect his or her appearance
  • show big changes in eating or sleeping habits

If you notice any of these signs take it seriously. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Seek our help for them. Find the suicide hotline number for your area, contact Second Wind Fund for counseling assistance.

“I was emotionless and blank. I would just go back to my barracks room and sit in the dark and just listen to music or play video games ‘cause I could let out some of the suppressed emotions. It took a long time to talk to anybody about it. The only person I can remember talking to was my fiancé. Having someone to talk to about it helped.” Brian, age 16

Death leaves a hole, a huge gaping hole, in the teen’s life. They are reminded of that hole at every turn: the empty chair at the table, the undisturbed bed, the unoccupied desk or locker with memorials all around them. Our culture tells us to replace the loss, remove the chair, and fill the hole. God says to weep with those who weep, “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15b).

You, their helpers, give them the courage to embrace the loss and walk through the grief, not run away from or bury it. As helpers you walk with them through the dark places and help them to identify if those places get too dark or last too long and professional help is needed.


Relationship is first about sharing the mundane before it graduates to sharing deep inner thoughts and feelings. Give the relationship time, day after day, week after week. Grief is a very long process; there will be lots of opportunities for sharing if you make the time.

tea time photo

“It’s not easy to lose someone you were close to, and it’s not easy to open up. I wish someone would have pushed me harder to talk about it. I’m still finding it hard to deal with, and I can’t seem to find the words to describe how I felt.  I felt alone and abandoned, not because I was alone but because I wouldn’t let anyone in and help.  I wouldn’t ask for help, I wouldn’t ask for guidance, but I wanted it….. I needed it. Trying to figure it out on your own…. it doesn’t help. I spent most of my time by myself in the corner or playing basketball by myself at youth group.  Nathan and Shelby were the ones that I would open up to because they came in and saw me and would take time out of their day and make it a point to say hi and talk if I wanted or just shoot some hoops.” Brian, age 16 

Grief is the realization that an important piece is missing in the puzzle of life. Like a puzzle, each piece plays an important part in telling the story. When a piece that once was there is now missing, it is difficult to get beyond that hole. Teens will search for replacement and meaning to the “missing piece.” Teens try to connect what once was with what is now, and it does not connect; there is a hole. This is where you come in to guide them through the unwelcome new reality and the importance of grieving in a healthy way.

Photo by The Art of York Berlin

Express or Explode?

Teen Acquainted with Grief - girlWhen teens experience the death of a close friend this death may be felt as deeply and sometimes even deeper than the death of a family member. Teens often spend more time with their peers making those relationships close. Each relationship was unique so you cannot expect grief be the same. Grief doesn’t make sense; sometimes they may feel disconnected, like a third party watching from a distance or the mind can be in hyper-drive but unable to connect thoughts.

Everyone will walk through sorrow in different ways at varying speeds and depths of feeling. The important focus is to go through it, not around it, by avoiding or numbing the feelings through self-medication of drugs or alcohol.

“I felt that if I kept my feelings all bottled up, the feelings I was having would be 10 times worse. I tried to keep things held inside, but when I did break down after trying that, it was so much worse than when I was open about my loss. One thing I did to express my pain was to journal…and some of those words became songs. Music has been therapy to me.” Katie age 15

Feelings need to somehow get expressed. Expression of those feelings may take the form of written, drawn, or spoken words but for some the feelings need to be put into action. This can be done with dance, hiking, running, just to name a few. Grief that is not expressed cannot heal. Bottled up or buried grief may show its self in anger or bitterness which can be harmful to them and others. Teens need to be encouraged to be bold enough to share their feelings in a way most comfortable for them.

Do you express or explode?

Excerpt from TATTOOED by Grief copyright Cari Zorno 2014

“No One Understands!”

We who have spent any time with teens have heard the words “No one understands!”. Most of us have even said it but in the instance of grief those words have a reverberating ring of truth. No one does understand. Grieving the death of a grandparent, or a pet is done at a different level than grieving the death of a family member or close friend.

            “Friends my age didn’t know what to say. Some related the experience to losing a family pet, which just made me mad. Other people would tell me I needed to move on because it happened a long time ago. Of course my family and people who knew my brother John, like his girlfriend, would pray for me and could understand my feelings.” Ashley

The closest anyone can come to understanding is when they have experienced a loss at the same depth. Even then we do not truly understand because of the uniqueness of grief but it is then that you “get it”.   We “get” the crazy feelings, numbness, and feeling lost. We get the pain. There on commonalities in the experience but it is not the same. This is because we are all created as individuals.

When a loved one or close friend dies it is the end of a relationship. Since each relationship is unique each loss is unique. When a family member dies each member of that family will grieve uniquely to them as a person and to their relationship with the deceased.

Personality types respond differently under the stress of grief. Extroverts who are stressed tend to pull inward and become uncharacteristically quiet. A person who is sullen and detached, might be an extrovert under stress. Introverts who are stressed tend to “lash out” or “freak out”.

How do you deal with loss? What makes your loss unique?

Excerpt from TATTOOED by grief copyright Cari Zorno 2014

Cheap beef Jerky

My Life Coach posed me a question which I have chewed on like cheap beef jerky for the last three weeks. “What do you want to be known for in five years?” I know that for some people looking five years ahead is as easy as planning what to have for dinner. Not so for me. I struggle with future plans like next month but after reading some archived blogs, journals, and messages I wrote to friends I found I do have a five year goal.

At breakfast I told a friend what I had formulated for my focus for five years, “To Bring the Light of Christ into the darkness of grief” She looked at me with a strange look and retorted, “Cari, you have been doing that for as long as I have known you.” Her comment affirmed for me that my focus for my five year goal is already being accomplished just by being me. I guess to broaden my goal is as Jabez stated in his prayer in  1 Chronicles 4:10 “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!”

So I to cry out “Lord, enlarge my territory” and he gave me “TATTOOED by Grief A handbook for walking with grieving teens” to get published as my first step into this new territory. With it brings the possibility of reaching more people bringing the light of Christ into the darkness of grief.